The provincial budget has just come down, and being so close to the May election, it has certainly been overly politicized compared to the last number of them. This is the governing party's campaign statement, and my guess is it will form a large part of the messaging between now and election day.
The tabled budget states a surplus of $197 million. Of course, the Opposition has stated they don't believe the budget is truly balanced and have called some of the projected revenue numbers unrealistic.
It is interesting to see some of the polling numbers relating to early public reaction to the budget. A relatively small number of people polled said they believe the budget is balanced, but nearly half support the budget anyway.
I think this speaks to the fact that regardless of one's view of this government's track record or whether you currently support them or not, most people want to see the province be able to move away from deficits as soon as responsibly possible.
My take, having seen the presentation made by the finance minister at a recent Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, is that prudent buffers seem to have been built into the budget.
The government did reduce the expected revenue numbers as it relates to natural gas royalty revenue, and also moderated projected revenues based on economic growth moving forward.
Some also take issue with the asset sale portion of the budget, and while this will require more than one willing buyer for each of the properties, needed to be sold in order to achieve going market price, a number of the properties in question appear to have "investor appeal" and should be able to be moved without taking too big of a sale discount.
Regarding that issue specifically, it again appears that the government has built in a cushion, regarding the property valuations.
Another part of the budget to consider is the reduced percentage of annual growth to the health ministry.
To be clear, health spending will continue to increase, just at a slower rate than in years past. As painful as this may prove to be for those unfortunate enough to need the healthcare system, healthcare spending increases must be brought under control as we move forward, in order for the overall system to be sustainable.
Of course, part of the exercise in increasing revenues is a one per cent increase in the provincial corporate tax rate. (It's important to note that the small business tax rate remains the same). An increase in taxes is never reason to celebrate, but my guess is in the interest of moving back to surplus budgets, most of big business will put up with it, as long as the government keeps their word on it being a temporary measure.
Having said all of this, only time will tell if the budget actually turns out to be balanced, which leads me to this suggestion to whoever wins the election in May.
The way to mitigate a great deal of the posturing and politics in a pre-election budget (from both sides of the house) is to move the budget to the fall.
Then in an election year, the sitting government can issue a "fiscal update" if they wish to give the electorate a snap shot of where the budget is at, before facing them at the polls.
The government has clearly drawn the line in the sand regarding their view that a balanced budget is what the electorate wants to see.
Now it's time to see how the opposition will respond with their proposed fiscal plan.